The Scar (New Crobuzon #2)
Author: China Miéville Publication Date: 1/1/02
Publisher: Del Rey
Blurb(GR): Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.
Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission. . . .Review:
Scars are funny things. They are traumas long past. They are reminders of people we’ve known and places we’ve been. They are healing; they are memory; they are history. Scars can change us into something brand new; scars can show the world that we’ve been irreparably broken. Scars are full of Possibility.
And so, The Armada: a place where new scars are made and old ones fall away. A massive floating city, cobbled together with stolen and salvaged boats, stolen and salvaged people. Slaves, servants, the remade, the ab-dead, all the oppressed lower castes of Bas-Lag: in The Armada they are reborn as citizens or even leaders. The Armada is a blurred place, a place of change. It’s a place where a man like Tanner Sack, medically altered into something inhuman and imprisoned aboard a slave ship bound for a new world, can breathe free. It’s a place where a young sailor with too much experience and too many prejudices can let them all go and find love. It’s a place where a young maid and a boy from a misogynistic village can join and become the most charismatic leader The Armada has ever known.
And then there’s Bellis Coldwine, standing out in sharp definition against all the blur. She’s a woman who decided long ago who she was going to be and she doesn’t want to change. She’s tightly contained within her fully-realized self. Reluctantly fleeing from the scrutiny of the ruthless New Crobuzon authorities, she wants nothing more than to return home someday – a goal which becomes impossible when she’s captured and claimed by The Armada. Bellis can see the opportunities that some of her less fortunate shipmates have been given, but still she is stubborn. She holds onto her need to return home like it’s armor.
“No, she thought fiercely, uncompromisingly.
Whatever the truth, whatever the case, however hopeless the cause – I do not give up on escape. It had taken her quite some effort to reach this coldly burning pitch of anger, of desire for escape, and to relinquish it now would be unbearable.
What happens next is a thrilling, mind-blowingly imaginative high seas journey through nightmares and mysteries – each more jaw-dropping and unique than the last. This author just knocks my socks off with the sheer power of his imagination. There are enough ideas, worlds, and species in this book alone to kindle a hundred others. And yet, he just tosses them out there like peanuts.
This story could have so easily become garish b-movie material, with its panoply of grotesqueries: flesh-melting neon green spit, anus-mouths, insectoid people, cactus
people (seriously), and giant underwater behemoths. But it NEVER does! Everything he writes is so…emotional and profound; it never feels cheap. How he managed to break my heart with slavering, murderous mosquito women I’ll never know!
The writing here really shouldn’t work and yet somehow it feels absolutely right and perfect
. The story shifts from past to present tense, from first person to third person, from one narrator to another. It seems almost cobbled together. And yet it never feels stilted or odd. It flows. Like The Armada itself, this motley assortment of prose somehow bridges together and reforms into a sweeping, effortless picture.
And here’s the thing I love the most about this book: that picture, that story, with all of its suspense and catharsis and death, was just a beginning.
“And I feel, for all that has happened, as if it is
now, only now in
these days, that
my journey is beginning. I feel as if this – even all this – has been a prologue.”
I have been a fan of China Mieville for a while, but this book is by far my favorite.
Perfect Musical Pairing
Bon Iver - Perth
I originally picked a song from this album for Perdido Street Station because I’d been listening to it non-stop for weeks and I was physically incapable of choosing anything else. But now I’m happy I did. This artist, with his weird falsetto voice and combination of 80’s-style synthesizers and brass instruments, really does sound different and sometimes odd. But his music is also undeniably beautiful and affecting. He wrote this song for a friend who had recently lost someone (Heath Ledger), and I think it’s about the marks that people leave on us: “I’m tearing up, across your face.”
Pump Six And Other Stories
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publication Date: 3/11/08
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Blurb(GR): Paolo Bacigalupi's debut collection demonstrates the power and reach of the science fiction short story. Social criticism, political parable, and environmental advocacy lie at the center of Paolo's work. Each of the stories herein is at once a warning, and a celebration of the tragic comedy of the human experience. The eleven stories in Pump Six represent the best Paolo's work, including the Hugo nominee "Yellow Card Man," the nebula and Hugo nominated story "The People of Sand and Slag," and the Sturgeon Award winning story "The Calorie Man."
This volume makes me remember how much I love short stories. I love how they sneak up and punch you right in the eye, then leave abruptly without even explaining themselves. They don’t have much time, so they have to be blunt. I can really appreciate that.
I won’t summarize all of the stories, but they are all intense. They are all set in not so distant futures, but are all chillingly related to present day events. The calamities taking place in these stories are exaggerated (a bit), but what’s universal is the human reaction to these events, and human nature. All the horrible truths about us are faithfully represented here. We’re not really a fun bunch as it turns out.
My favorite, unbelievable as it may seem, is Pop Squad, which follows a conflicted, slightly sadistic killer of children in a world where procreation is illegal. After the discovery of a pharmaceutical treatment which renders all humans immortal (as long as they keep getting it), part of the authorities’ job becomes tracking and killing all prohibited children. Part of the reason I love this story is that it is one of the few written in first person, which gives it a much more forceful, intimate feeling. It is also one of the most powerful motherhood stories I’ve ever read, and definitely the only one I’ve ever come across that’s narrated by a baby-killer. This story made me want to vomit (I can’t forget that damn dinosaur either, buddy), while simultaneously flooding me with motherhood-affirming emotion. It also made me chuckle a few times, which was weird. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe he just killed a baby and now I’m laughing.” But it’s true; that story took me by surprise.
I think that Paolo Bacigalupi is one of the most skillful storytellers I’ve ever come across. He amazes me with his ability to convey only the bare essentials of what is necessary, without ever overloading the reader with anything
superfluous. He lets his worlds build slowly, as the story progresses, and never resorts to long introductions. He trusts the readers to understand, without hitting us over the head with his ideas. Reading his stories feels like a compliment.
None of these stories are easy or light. I listened to this one, and I had to take many music breaks throughout the 12 hours. I highly suggest Radiohead's Kid A: “I’m not here…this isn’t happening….” You said it, Thom! If you can get past the extreme situations and imagery, this collection is not to be missed.
The Windup Girl
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publication Date: 9/1/09
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.Review:
This is the kind of book that unceremoniously dumps you in the middle of a teeming, noisy world and demands that you sink or swim. Oh, and that noise that I mentioned? Yeah, it’s all slang, and in about five different languages – none of which you can understand. My advice is just try to float with it. Don’t stress out if you can’t understand half the words, or the vague references to “the incident” or “the situation in Finland.” All will come clear…trust me.
This story is set in a futuristic Thailand, which is one of the last countries “surviving”, after several plagues have wiped out the majority of human and plant life* and the sea levels have risen to cover most cities. Thailand has managed to endure by using levees and pumps (operated with spring-power, since all other fuels are scarce) to hold back the rising waters, and a hidden seed bank to provide new genetic material for food engineering. Unfortunately this makes it a nice fat target for the masses of human refugees, looking for a place to rebuild, and the greedy calorie corporations, which have already monopolized most of the world’s food supply by engineering plant species that can’t reproduce (thus ensuring that no one else will be able to grow them).
There are upwards of four main characters in this story (some of the minor characters take on larger roles later in the book) which seems like quite a lot. I think that the biggest danger with too many characters is that there won’t be enough time or energy devoted to any of them and in the end there’s no connection for the reader. I’ve definitely come across novels like that, where I just didn’t care enough about the characters because there wasn’t a chance to become attached to any of them (Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven comes to mind). There really wasn’t one single character in this book, no matter how minor, that I didn’t end up caring deeply about. One of the minor characters actually ended up becoming my favorite (Kanya!). All of these characters are deeply scarred(some more literally than others) by the years of famine and tragedy that they’ve gone through. Not one of them is a truly good person, and yet I cared for all of them and wanted them all to succeed (which was really hard, because they were often trying to manipulate and/or kill each other). It was powerfully moving to witness them all fight and flounder, and eventually realize that it doesn’t matter how much opium or how many jewels you’ve got stashed away in your bamboo walls, or how much you’ve betrayed everything you believe in just to get ahead – you can never escape the destructive power of nature, or your karma.
I can easily see how this book won’t be everyone’s cup o’ tea (Christina, I’m looking at you). There really isn’t very much action in this story (although I found myself frequently shocked by all the twists and turns). Instead there’s creepy political maneuvering and enough sinister machinations to get my evil laugh going and my fingers drumming together like Monty Burns. This is definitely more for those, like me, who are just as excited by psychological action as physical. The pacing is a bit slow, but I really enjoyed that – the writing is so good that I was happy to just float along and wallow in all the nice pretty words. This book was 100% right up my alley – I can even say that I genuinely enjoyed being confused for much of it. This one’s going on the favorites list!
*Brief scientist rant below:
One tiny little niggling problem I had with this book is the whole idea of viruses moving from plants to humans. While viruses frequently break through the animal/human barrier, I had always assumed that due to the differences in cell structure and modes of infection, plant viruses would be extremely unlikely to move to humans. However, I just googled this and found this article.
Oh. My. God. It’s happening! Watch out everyone; it’s time to start hoarding baht and brushing up on your Thai!
Hard Bitten (Chicagoland Vampires, #4)
Author: Chloe Neill
Publisher: NAL Trade
Times are hard for newly minted vampire Merit. Ever since shapeshifters announced their presence to the world, humans have been rallying against supernaturals--and they're camping outside of Cadogan House with protest signs that could turn to pitchforks at any moment. Inside its doors, things between Merit and her Master, green-eyed heartbreaker Ethan Sullivan are ... tense. But then the mayor of Chicago calls Merit and Ethan to a clandestine meeting and tells them about a violent vamp attack that has left three women missing. His message is simple: get your House in order. Or else.
Merit needs to get to the bottom of this crime, but it doesn't help that she can't tell who's on her side. So she secretly calls in a favor from someone who's tall, dark, and part of underground vamp group that may have some deep intel on the attack. Merit soon finds herself in the heady, dark heart of Chicago's supernatural society--a world full of vampires who seem too ready to fulfill the protesting human's worst fears, and a place where she'll learn that you can't be a vampire without getting a little blood on your hands...Review:
Holy curveball, Batman! As I was nearing the end of this book, I kept thinking, “Oh, I totally know what the crazy jawdropper at the end of this book is going to be. Come on people, duhhh” as I paged through the windup. NOPE, it turns out this book just wiped that smug look off my face. I will put spoilers in this review where spoilers are due but LISTEN UP, COMPULSIVE SPOILER CLICKERS/READERS!! If you click on the spoilers and intend to read this book, you might as well get a Flannery-shaped voodoo doll so you can stick it with pins because I will have totally ruined your reading experience. You heard it here first.
So anyway, if you have been following this series, you might want to reread Twice Bitten
before reading this one. There is a rather large cast of characters in this series and while I remembered the names for the most part, I couldn’t completely remember everyone’s history and their personalities…of course, that could have something to do with me frantically reading all three published books in two days around Christmastime. Either way, I bet your enjoyment would be greatly increased if you didn’t have the memory jogging to do. As it is, this book picks up almost directly after the ending of its predecessor. (obviously I can’t recount that ending as it is a huge spoiler)
The writing is consistent with other installments of the series, which is pretty refreshing considering how other series I read have been increasingly disappointing or just feel like filler. While they all have airs of political feuds in them, the theme is much more present in this one and I wasn’t the hugest fan. I mean, let’s be honest here. Are we in the cone of silence? Okay, we all know one of the biggest, if not THE biggest reason we read series like this is for all the hot guys and *fingers crossed* sexy times. I’ll read about power struggles or solving mysteries but for a series like this one, I’m always hoping for some hotness. Aaaaand , this one is sadly light on it. As it is on Mallory and Catcher, whom I’ve come to really enjoy. I felt like their storyline was rather unnecessary to the overall book and it felt like they were there only to provide readers the reminder that they are, in fact, huge characters in the series. Did anyone else feel this way? Maybe it was just me. It was just too much power struggle and not enough fun, friendships, romance, etc. There was ass-kicking, though, which is always great.
I am rather embarrassingly in love with the idea of vampire Houses and the whole fraternity/sorority feel of all the different Chicagoland (and otherwise) groups of vampires. While reading, I daydream about what kind of house would be the coolest to be a part of—then I push up my metaphorical nerd glasses and wonder how it is I even have any friends:) Anyway, other books in the series gave us an understanding of the Cadogan (obviously) and Navarre houses, but this one lets us in on Grey House and I have to say, it sounds pretty choice. I’d definitely want to be hanging out with them in their sweet pad.
And then come my annoyances: ***SPOILER ALERT***
You know that love interest? That guy you’ve been rooting for for several books? The one who has super sexy awesomeness with Merit in the last book? Well, Chloe Neill brings him out of nowhere into a fight in the last 10 pages and then stakes him a few sentences later. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT? I’m not going to say I’m annoyed that he was killed—it’s okay with me. I’m excited to see where the series will go from here--I’m just a bit disappointed at the execution and how much was done in the last 15 or so pages. And speaking of that, her dad is such an asshole! As is Darius. I wish characters had less of that stuff, what do you call them? Oh, morals. I wish someone would’ve just staked that bastard and Celina from the get-go. Jeez, where are the vigilantes when you need them? ;-) Also, Morgan is hot but a douche, and Jonah’s room sounds awesome. I’d hit that.***END SPOILERS***
All in all, I still really enjoyed this one. Fun times in Chicagoland!